Computer Science

The Computing FAQ

This FAQ attempts to answer questions that many prospective students have about computer science in general, and about the computer science program at UNCW.
  1. General Questions
  2. UNCW Specific Questions

General Questions

What is computer science?

Computer Science can be described as the body of knowledge that enables you to use computers to solve problems. The problems can range from the relatively simple, like developing an iPhone app that functions as a tip calculator, to the complex, like an automatic collision avoidance system for an automobile. The application domains are diverse and include, to name a few:

  • medicine - medical records management, medical imaging, drug discovery, patient care...
  • consumer electronics - iPhones, iPads...
  • communication - cell phones, computer and communication networks...
  • security - face recognition, voice recognition...
  • defense and space applications - guidance systems, satellite imaging...
  • entertainment - video games, animated movies, iTunes...
  • transportation - GPS, anti-lock brakes...
  • social networking - Facebook, LinkedIn...
  • E-commerce - Amazon, Groupon, fraud prevention and detection...

What do computing professionals do?

Given the pervasive nature of computing, computing professionals find themselves applying their skills in a variety of contexts. Businesses, large and small, employ computing professionals to support their business activities, for instance as database, network, web, or systems administrators. Others work in software development roles for companies ranging from the large, well-known companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle, to smaller companies that serve niche industries. Numerous computing professionals work for high-tech companies like Boeing, GE, Raytheon, and Westinghouse, that use computing extensively in support of their primary business. Many work for companies in the entertainment business like Pixar, Bungee, and Electronic Arts. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit work as independent contractors or consultants, developing software or providing technical services to a wide array of businesses. In this context, the explosion of mobile devices and the associated application marketplace provides unparalleled opportunities for computing professionals to become entrepreneurs. (For another perspective on computing careers.)

Are computing careers rewarding?

Computing careers for students with an undergraduate degree in computer science continue to be among the most lucrative, with salaries on a par with those for engineering majors. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) September 2014 Executive Summary (page 3), computer science is in the top five majors for compensation in 2014. Projections indicate that computing professionals will continue to be in high demand for years to come. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that "Computer and mathematical science occupations are projected to add almost 785,700 new jobs from 2008 to 2018. Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook. As a group, these occupations are expected to grow more than twice as fast as the average for all occupations in the economy. Demand for workers in computer and mathematical occupations will be driven by the continuing need for businesses, government agencies, and other organizations to adopt and utilize the latest technologies." Not only are computing professionals well compensated, careers in computing tend to be rated high by other measures of quality like job satisfaction and flexibility.

Is computer science the right major for me?

Only you can answer that question with certainty. However, if you enjoy solving technical problems, are persistent, capable of systematic thought and precise expression, and refuse to believe that you cannot make a mindless machine do your bidding, then computing may be an excellent choice for you. (A list of top 10 reasons to major in computer science.)

UNCW specific Questions

What are the curricular options available?

The Department of Computer Science offers two programs of study leading to the Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. Both options prepare students to attend graduate school and to pursue career opportunities in computer science or closely related areas, and follow the systems-based approach set forth by the Association for Computing Machinery and the IEEE Computer Society for undergraduate degree programs in computer science. Option 1 (Sytems Option), which is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), contains more thorough coverage of concepts in operating systems, scientific computing, and has more elective credit hours in upper-level computer science courses to allow students the flexibility to explore additional advanced topics. Option 2 is designed to give students a sound background in computer science and the opportunity for in-depth study of a computer science application area.

What does the computer science curriculum look like?

To solve problems using computers you should be capable of making the computer do what you want it to do, i.e. by programming it. Thus, the early part of the curriculum is focused on learning the principles and the practice of computer programming. Later, the curriculum is devoted to learning about techniques and concepts specific to sub-areas like operating systems, computer networks, artificial intelligence, computer graphics, compiler construction, or databases. Implementing the techniques you learn in these courses will require you to write computer programs. (Another perspective on what skills you will acquire in a computing curriculum.)

What programming languages will I learn?

We currently use Java in the introductory 3 course sequence of CSC 131, CSC 231, and CSC 331. Later courses may teach, or require you to learn, other languages. For instance, the operating systems course may use C or C++, the database course may introduce PHP, and a course on Artificial Intelligence might use Prolog.

Will I be required to take Math courses?

Absolutely! We require students to complete Calculus I (MAT 161), Calculus II (Mat 162) and introductory statistics (STT 215). A computer program is an expression of your thought in code. Often, mathematical maturity can facilitate your thinking and help make you a better programmer. Thus, you will find yourself using basic mathematics routinely, and encounter situations where advanced mathematics finds application.

What background should an entering freshman have for Computer Science?

Prior experience as a user or programmer of a computer is not at all necessary. Prospective students are encouraged to take mathematics and English throughout their senior year in high school even if they have already satisfied high school graduation and UNC admissions requirements in those areas.

Communication and reasoning skills are also an important factor in a student's success both in college and in a career in nearly every field including Computer Science.

The Mathematics Department administers a Math Placement Test during student orientation which recommends which math course a student should take. Some review of high school algebra and trigonometry before coming to orientation would ensure that the score on this test reflects the student's true knowledge. Students who have completed College Algebra (MAT 111) or higher before entering UNCW can enroll in CSC 131 in the first semester. Students who must take College Algebra (MAT 111) or remedial math will have to delay taking CSC courses for one or more semesters. (Preparing for a Computing Major.)

Is there a course to help me prepare for CSC 131?

No. The only pre-requisite for CSC 131 is college algebra (MAT 111). However, some students find it helpful to take CSC 112 first before enrolling in CSC 131.

When can I declare a major in Computer Science?

Students may declare a major in computer science at any point.

Do you offer courses in Graphic Design?

We do not. Graphic design is unrelated to computer science. We do, however, offer a minor in digital arts.